Hi everyone, as promised this is my field report. We were 4 Italians on the road and like in 2011 (Western US trip) we decided to begin from Denver.
Itinerary was the following, pretty tight: Denver, CO > Jackson, WY and Grand Teton NP > Yellowstone NP > Cody, WY > Sheridan, WY > Devil's tower, WY > Deadwood, SD > Rapid City, SD > MT Rushmore > Sioux Falls, SD > Omaha, NE > Kansas City, MO > St Louis, MO > Memphis, TN > Clarksdale, MS > Savannah, TN > Shiloh NMP, TN > Nashville, TN > Lynchburg, TN > Chattanooga, TN > Atlanta, GA.
Day 1 - 16 Aug: Landing in Denver, CO. I flew directly from London UK and landed in Denver around 7pm , after a very short immigration process, I met with my 3 friends who were coming from Italy via Atlanta. Hertz gave us a brand new Dodge Grand Caravan, 7 seats.
Plenty of room and a real mule, it was a pleasure to drive. Night was spent at Sleep inn in Aurora, and the only restaurant we found by the time we checked in and had a quick shower was the Applebee's, we really liked it.
Again we didn’t see Denver but I really promised to myself to spend at least 2 nights in future.
Day 2 - 17 Aug: Denver > Rawlins, WY. I know many of you advised not to drive a long way on the very first day, but probably due to the excitement we did Denver - Rawlins, WY. On the way we passed via Fort Collins, CO (Seems nice and we understood it is University town) and briefly stopped in Laramie, WY (very hot weather, really western flavour, not a soul on the streets ;
we had a good coffee break at Coal creek coffee co an independent coffee shop) At Rawlins we stayed at the Holiday Inn and while trying to find a good dining option we went to Buck's Sports Grill , mixed feelings on it as food was OK and atmosphere very characteristic, but service was not the best in my opinion (adding a smile on the bill doesn't entitle you to a good tip if you showed no empathy in your job...). We didn't have time to visit the Wyoming prison unfortunately.
Day 3 - 18 Aug: Rawlins > Jackson, WY: a long leg. Scenic drive after Pinedale, road was fantastic (same on the first day). We met many bikers on the way. Jackson itself is a pretty tourist destination and South gateway to the Grand Teton and eventually Yellowstone.
We had time for a few pictures and beers at the Million dollar Cowboy bar.
We also saw a re-enactment of a cowboy duel, in the main square. Night spent at Anglers Inn motel (ok but a bit too pricey);
dinner at Bubba's BBQ, quite an institution apparently and we were not disappointed. Our impression was that Jackson seems more a Winter rich tourist destination though.
Day 4 - 19 Aug: Jackson/Grand Teton > Yellowstone NP/West Yellowstone, MT; breakfast in Jackson at fantastic independent bakery Great harvest bread co, if you are in Jackson, try it, their pastries are sublime and staff very friendly.
We then drove to Grand Teton, spectacular views all over. We then arrived to Yellowstone, visited the Old Faithful geyser and arrived at West Yellowstone , MT where we stayed at the Gray Wolf inn. Dinner at the Timberline cafe, a family run restaurant, very tasty food. Yellowstone cannot be described, as a tourist you are just a guest, nature prevails. Driving is a pleasure and you see so many things, wildlife, forests, mountains, geysers, just beautiful.
Day 5- 20 Aug: visiting Yellowstone, we managed to do the entire "8" route in 2 days.
Day 6 - 21 Aug: Yellowstone to Cody, WY we visited Yellowstone Lake shores and exited east towards Cody, WY.
The road is fantastic, practically it was just us and few other cars.
We arrived in Cody (Best Western Sunset Motor Inn), and decided to invest 20 USD in the Rodeo Nite show. As we never saw a rodeo before, it was a great experience, even if it was bitter cold.
Very well organized, we were amazed by the skills of the cowboys/girls some of them in their early teens.
Day 7 - 22 Aug: Cody to Sheridan, WY: in the morning we visited the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, as expected it is a masterpiece, very well made and informative.
I especially liked Buffalo Bill section and the small one dedicated to the Outlaws; they also have the Native american and Fireaarms sections.
We then drove to Sheridan via the wonderful Bighorn mountains, another fantastic scenic drive.
In Sheridan we saved money staying at Super Saver Inn (very cheap but clean) and had a light dinner at Frackelton's (nice one). Why light? BEcause i forgot to mention that we had lunch in Cody and went to the Silver Dollar bar...
their huge double burger was incredible, as well as the atmosphere.
Day 8 - 23 Aug: Sheridan to Rapid City, SD. The first of 3 really long legs. We drove to Devil's Tower for a few pictures (I wanted to go there since I'm a big fan of Close Encounters) then to Deadwood, SD, it was a Saturday and there was an old 50’s cars exhibition in town,
along with the usual bikers. Atmosphere was great. We then stayed at the Old Town ‘n’ Country BW in Rapid City, with friendly ad attentive staff, very clean room. They advised us to go for dinner at the adjacent Colonial Inn, well it was another family owned restaurant and the food was simply great, we went back on the following morning for breakfast!
Day 9 – 24 Aug: Rapid city > Mt Rushmore > Sioux Falls, SD:
we visited Mount Rushmore (you Americans really know how to make money out of your best attractions…and not only!), a real landmark. We then had to drive fast to Sioux Falls because the aim was to arrive in Tennessee as soon as possible. We stopped at the Wall drug store, a tourist trap but again very well made,
it’s impossible not to spend money there. And after reading about the founder story and how they managed to attract the first clients, well they can only be admired. Look at what it’s become! We loved driving through South Dakota prairies, unfortunately we had no time to visit the Badlands. We arrived at night in Sioux Falls, no restaurant opened so we skipped dinner. Motel was the Sleep inn Airport, clean but not in a nice area (some bad faces staring at us in the motel parking space, maybe the adjacent liquor store does not attract the best crowd….).
Day 10 – 25 Aug: Sioux Falls > Omaha, NE > Kansas city, MO: few pictures at the Falls park then we moved quickly and arrive in Omaha around 2 pm, town was desert and weather very hot but we noticed the Old Market is surely a lively place probably at night, as there are many shops, bars and restaurants.
It was a good idea to transform this area in a modern one. We then drove to KC where we arrived in the evening; GPS thought it was a good idea to stop working while we were entering the city (I blame Hertz, their GPS messed up in every sized city we went), and driving in the heavy traffic on 6-7 lanes when trying to find the right exit and looking into 3 mirrors at once wasn’t easy. We obviously took the wrong exit and ended in a not very nice area far from downtown, we then managed to find our way by simply following the skyscrapers. Our Best Western was the Seville Plaza, just outside it police was arresting some trouble maker, however hotel staff directed us to the safe Plaza area to grab a bite. All shops were closed but we had the best steak at Fiorella’s, which I hugely recommend!
Day11 – 26 Aug: Kansas City > St. Louis, MO: we stayed just outside south St Louis, we had time to visit the Gateway Arch
and had dinner at St Louis Cardinals ballpark.
It was a great experience for us, as there were baseball games live on screen, we do not have these kind of venues in Europe and I’m not sure why.
Day 12 – 27 Aug: St. Louis > Memphis, TN: we spent 2 nights in Memphis. BW quite outside, very close to Graceland; night spent downtown in Beale st., which was closed to traffic and it was bike night, so all bikers coming into town.
Good for us tourists to see certain character. We had dinner listening to live music at one of the venues there, which was great. However despite the heavy police presence, I need to say Memphis is quite a dump and it’s the place I liked less in our entire trip.
Day 13 – 28 Aug: Memphis, TN. Day spent at Graceland,
weather was very hot and as a result once back to the motel I collapsed and slept until the following morning. My friends managed to go to downtown and spend the night at the Irish bar in Beale st. A comment on Graceland, it’s an incredibly well made attraction, the entrance is 42 USD if you choose the Platinum+ airplane package but it is worth in my opinion. Elvis was a real legend who changed America and the world. You cannot miss this attraction even if you are not a hard fan.
Day 14 – 29 Aug: Memphis > Clarksdale, MS, > Savannah, TN: my friend wanted to see the Crossroads in Clarksdale and the Delta Blues museum.
Very well made museum especially if you are a Blues fan, legends like Muddy Waters started here in this area. Then just run away, the place is like a zombie town, sorry to say.
We decided to take some local routes and via Pontotoc/Tupelo drove up to Savannah, TN The road towards Tennessee was very nice and scenic in some aspects. Especially the road leading to Shiloh Battlefield was very quiet and enjoyable. We promised to visit the National Military Park the following day.
I suggest the Hickory Pit in Savannah, a local family run restaurant, we struggled with the fast southern accent but food was great.
Day 15 – 30 Aug: Savannah > Shiloh NMP > Nashville, TN: we wanted to visit some civil war sites and were not disappointed by Shiloh, what an inspiring place.
It’s free of charge, the rangers welcome you and give you a map, then you visit the small museum and watch the very well made 40 mins video explaining the events of 6th and 7th April 1862. Then it’s a self guiding drive through the park, following the map and the very clear signs on the way. We spent all morning there and will never regret, it was also a way to pay respect to the fallen. However this slowed us down as we needed to be in Nashville by the evening. We decided to take the Natchez Trace close to Waynesboro, and I have to thank you guys for suggesting this and Shiloh in my previous planning post. Natchez Trace was marvellous, a quiet 50 mph drive surrounded by nature, it was just us. It started raining though and we left the Trace near Columbia to take the interstate. We ended up driving in a hurricane (I was driving) and it was not easy at all…as you cannot see the road at all. This lasted a couple of hours and at the end we managed to arrive at our motel in Antioch, TN. We were very tired and had no time/energy to go to Downtown, so we had dinner at the adjacent Country pride restaurant, yes it is a chain but they have good food. Many tired truck drivers around, I had respect for such a tough job as well as for the old waitress serving us.
Day 16 – 31 Aug: Nashville: Sunday was spent visiting Nashville, the Country Hall of Fame (we were not big fans , now we are!),
some pics at the Capitol building and a few drinks while listening to live music at one of the bars in Broadway. At night we went to the Crossroad and to Second Fiddle saloon, this was my favourite, there was a concert from Megan Ellis band which we really enjoyed.
Day 17 – 1 Sep:
Nashville: day spent going for souvenirs in Nashville, we also saw the Parthenon.
Day 18 – 2 Sep: Nashville > Lynchburg > Chattanooga, TN:
We went to visit Jack Daniel’s distillery and took the free tour, our guide showed us how the famous Whiskey is made. Great experience and I discovered that is a “dry” county, you cannot drink at a public place! Very curious. We obviously spent some money at the “Hardware store” which is JD official store, but I had a great sandwich and coffee break at one of the local restaurants, the “Southern Perks”.
Do not miss it as this is family run and food is exquisite. I generally loved the small Lynchburg community which clearly depends on the JD tourism. We arrived at Chattanooga and had time to spend at the Riverfront and we had dinner at a great Steakhouse “Big river”.
Chattanooga seems a nice place and I read it was recommended as one of the best US cities to live in.
Day 19 – 3 Sep: Chattanooga > Atlanta, GA: slow day and we were tired and with no ideas, so decided to go shopping at Hamilton Place mall. Huge place and I had to spend money on Apple stuff at MacAuthority. I saved around 100 GBP by buying them in US…which is a good bargain.
We arrived in Atlanta and once again I was driving through a storm, it didn’t last long but it happened exactly when we arrived into town and the traffic on the interstate was crazy, despite the 7 lanes. GPS obviously got crazy and was giving the wrong directions, I then decided it was time to drive “like an American” and move fast from right to left while signalling with minimum notice. It worked! And we found our hotel close to downtown. My arms were aching by then!
I’m not sure why with so many nice restaurants we decided to try Hooters, I can only say it was a BAD experience. Never again.
Day 20 – 4 Sep: Atlanta: we had time in the morning and visited World of Coca Cola, tourist trap but shows exactly why they are the most recognized global brand. They know their marketing.
The attraction is very well made and they let you taste up to 60 different flavours from around the world.
In the afternoon we went to Atlanta Airport, traffic was crazy but we managed to leave our Dodge to Hertz and spent some time at the very nice new International Concourse F. Plenty of options for food and last minute shop.
Overall it was a great experience, and we were all satisfied, we visited all the places we initially planned to and even more, while staying basically on track. However there is a lot more to see, especially in Colorado and Tennessee, which I promise I’ll visit again in future.
People everywhere were very friendly, in terms of service and locals (just for a chat) and they were curious about coming from Italy.
We really loved the hospitality!
Thanks for reading and for all your advices during the planning phase!